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The Fastest Trains in Europe

Fast Rail Travel Across Europe


ZEPPELIN RAIL-CAR, the fastest car on rails so far invented

ZEPPELIN RAIL-CAR, the fastest car on rails so far invented. Maximum speed on trial was 143 miles and hour. This German car was the forerunner of the “Flying Hamburger”, in the sense that it was a self-contained unit built solely for speed, but aero-dynamic propulsion did not prove a practical proposition and Diesel-electric propulsion was used for the famous “Flying Hamburger”.

THE extraordinary vehicle illustrated here, half airship and half rail-car, with a propeller for what is sometimes known as aero-dynamic propulsion, holds the world’s record for speed on rails. It can hardly be called a locomotive, for its pulling power at the head of a line of ordinary railway coaches would be relatively small, but it achieved the object for which it was designed, and that was high speed.

The Kruckenburg car, as it was named, appeared in 1931, and was of German design and construction. On test, it reached a speed of one hundred and forty-three miles an hour, thereby beating the previous record of a hundred and thirty, which also was held by Germany.

The Germans have always had a flair for producing something more startling than has been seen before, and this rail-plane, although it was never actually put into service, certainly showed the trend of their experiments. The car was ninety-five feet in length, of especially light construction so that it could be carried on only four wheels, and streamlined to reduce its resistance to swift passage through the air. The motive power was an ordinary aeroplane motor, which drove the four-bladed propeller at the rear.

The Kruckenburg car progressed by means of the stream of air directed rearwards by the propeller, in the same manner as an aeroplane. What would have happened if it had appeared in regular service, causing a minor hurricane on leaving a platform, is impossible to say.

The previous record of a hundred and thirty miles an hour had been gained by an electrically driven locomotive, in the year 1903. This was in the days of hansom cabs and “horseless carriages”, before the first “flying machine” had succeeded in leaving the ground. What is more, the car that travelled at such a speed, unheard of at the time, was streamlined and capable of seating fifty passengers.

A still earlier electric car had reached a hundred miles an hour in 1901, but it did so much damage to the track that the test had to be abandoned.

Before high speeds can be attempted, the track must be suitable, which is why, in spite of the great speeds possible today, speeds on many sections of line are still comparatively moderate.

A track can be unsuitable for various reasons. There may be sharp curves in it, or it may be laid over bridges on which there are speed restrictions, or speed restrictions may be in force owing to level crossings and so on. So it is sometimes not much good building a powerful locomotive without practically rebuilding the track, which is what happened in Germany and other European countries just before the Second World War.

High record speeds, however, must not be confused with high average timings. The average timing is the time taken by a train between any two points given as miles an hour, and including all stops. To gain, say, an average timing of eighty miles an hour, the locomotive must be capable of far higher speeds intermediately. The line must be cleared for it, and any slight delay may mean travelling at a much higher speed between stops to maintain the average timing.

Speed must be judged in conjunction with the weight carried. Rail speeds seem low beside those of the aeroplane and the racing car, but the weight of the average train is out of all proportion to the weight of cars and aeroplanes. Some modern passenger expresses, travelling at a hundred miles an hour, weigh as much as a thousand tons. Even freight trains in some parts of the world travel at over sixty miles an hour, and the weight of one of them may be as much as five thousand tons.


GERMAN STREAMLINED STEAM LOCOMOTIVE. Design which looks rather strange to British eyes. The streamlined covering is carried down almost to the rails, and trouble has even been taken to bend the lower sections into a reverse curve, something like the bilge of a ship. Inspection covers are provided in the bottom part of the covering in order to facilitate attention to the cylinders and valve gear.

For all practical purposes, therefore, the fastest trains are those with the highest average timings, and it was Germany that had the bulk of them. Building upon the knowledge they had gained with these early experiments, the German State Railways in 1932 startled railway circles by announcing a new service on the Berlin-Hamburg line with an average timing of seventy-seven miles an hour.

The highest British average timing then was that of the “Cheltenham Flyer”, which did the daily trip between Swindon and Paddington at seventy-one miles an hour. This section of line, however, was almost perfect for speed work, and it was not supposed that the “Cheltenham Flyer’s” average would become general. That train had, as a matter of fact, only been introduced the year before.

The German announcement, therefore, seemed surprising, considering the fifty-mile-an-hour speed limit from the capital out to Spandau, and the long curve through Wittenberge. How were such losses to be made up on the better stretches of line?

First Diesel-Electric Train

The secret lay in the high sustained speed possible with the Diesel-electric method of propulsion. For the first time this combination of oil engine, electric generator and electric motor was being used for high speed work, and the train in which it was tested was the “Flying Hamburger”.

The “Flying Hamburger” consisted of two streamlined coaches carried on three four-wheel bogies, one bogie under each outer end and one carrying the two adjoining ends in the middle. The train was thus a complete articulated unit. The electric motors were placed under the coaches in the two end bogies, an arrangement which had the double advantage of keeping the weight well down and reducing vibration.

For safety at high speeds, the cars were equipped with a double system of braking. They had the quick-acting Knorr brake for normal use, applied to the wheels, and a powerful electro-magnetic brake for use in emergencies, applied direct to the rails. This rail brake was powerful enough to bring the train to a standstill in three-quarters of a mile, even from a speed of a hundred miles an hour. Three-quarters of a mile is the distance customarily left in Germany between the distant signal and the stop signal. As a further precaution, if a distant signal were passed at caution, the brakes were applied automatically.

Carrying over a hundred passengers in comfort, and whirling them to their destination at a speed never known before in rail travel, the “Flying Hamburger” was an instant success. Even a refreshment buffet was provided, and the cars were connected by a gangway running their whole length, with three-abreast seats on one side and single seats on the other. Before long, the other great cities in Germany were clamouring for high-speed travel to the capital, and in this way Germany’s chain of Diesel-electric flyers was started.

Most of the tracks over which they operated had to be rebuilt, some of them right from the foundations. The cant of the tracks on curves was increased to permit of hundred-mile-an-hour speeds with safety, and heavier rails were laid of a standard length of just over ninety-eight feet, the longest in the world to be produced as a regular practice. In addition, rail joints were welded to form continuous lengths as great as three hundred feet. In places, as in the Brandleite tunnel, in fact, there are rails with welded joints of a continuous length of over a mile and a half.


THE “FLYING FRANKFURTER”. Before the Second Word War, the “Flying Frankfurter” was one of the fastest trains in Europe. It covered the journey between Berlin and Frankfurt-on-Main, three hundred and thirty-eight miles, in just over five hours. It was a two-car self-contained unit like the Flying Hamburger, mounted on three bogies, with Diesel-electric propulsion. These German “Flyers” carried 102 passengers at a maximum speed of 99.3 miles an hour.

Add to all this the fact that in no other country in the world is there such a profusion of flying and burrowing junctions, and it will be obvious why the German State Railways, at the outbreak of the Second World War, had the fastest trains in Europe. They had built up gradually the right network of tracks and the right motive power for fast timings. To electricity, which they had proved long ago to be faster than steam, they had added the oil-engine, so producing a self-contained unit capable of rapid acceleration and long-distance working. In 1939, they had eight Diesel-electric runs daily, with as high an average timing as eighty miles an hour.

Not many of their lines were electrified. Germany has ample coal resources, and the bulk of the services were still under steam. Pacific locomotives of various types were used for the principal passenger trains, some of them fully streamlined. One of these on test reached a maximum speed of a hundred and twenty-four miles an hour, only two miles an hour less than the world record of the British locomotive “Mallard”.


STREAMLINED DOUBLE-DECKED STEAM TRAIN. This train provides capacity rather than speed. The coaches are built with both upper and lower decks and, although rather cramped for space, have roughly double the passenger accommodation of the more usual type. They were designed for use on a busy route between Hamburg and Lubeck, and were known popularly as “upstairs-downstairs” trains. A similar type of double-decker coach has found favour in France as well as in Germany, chiefly on the very crowded Paris suburban lines. Double-decker cars are also used in the U.S.A.

Electrification, however, is the keynote of the modem Italian State Railways. Unlike Germany, Italy lacked the coal for steam, whereas she had ample water power for a hydro-electric system. Vast generating stations have been built, using water power from the mountain lakes, and all the main lines throughout the country are now electrified. The result is that the proverbially slow and dirty Italian trains gave place to swift and clean travel with electricity, and some of the Italian flyers have on occasion beaten even the German timings.

New Italian Routes

Far more than any other country, Italy has paid attention to the routes, in some cases rebuilding winding tracks entirely from one end to the other, and cutting through all obstacles regardless of cost. The new line from Rome to Naples, for example, flattens all gradients and eases curves so that unrestricted speed was permitted over the whole of its length.

Electrically hauled, the fastest Italian trains ran in three-car units, one of which has made the fastest start-to-stop run in railway history. This was a first-class train that left Florence and travelled by way of the new line through Bologna to Milan, doing the complete journey of a hundred and ninety-five miles at an average speed of one hundred and two miles an hour. The highest speed reached on the run was a hundred and twenty-six miles an hour.

The engineering of some of these lines is worth considering, particularly a still later one driven through the Apennines between Bologna and Florence. Previously, the main line from Milan to Rome was carried on a serpentine course over the mountains, but the new line effected a complete transformation.

To begin with, it has cut the altitude to which the trains have to climb by half. Then it has shortened the Bologna-Florence distance from eighty-two to sixty miles, reduced all gradients and eased curves, so that speeds of seventy-five miles an hour were permitted throughout. The building of this new high-speed line involved the boring of thirty-one tunnels, with a total length of over twenty-two miles, and the building of forty masonry bridges and viaducts. It cost the enormous sum of twelve million pounds.

The Great Apennine Tunnel on this new line ranks as one of the Railway Wonders of the World. With a length of nearly twelve miles, it is the longest in the world which has been bored sufficiently large to take a double track, and is the only tunnel which has a cross-over road and a signal-box, deep in the bowels of the earth.

The signal-box was installed to break up what would otherwise have been a very long signalling section on a busy line, and sidings were laid, communicating with both tracks, so that it is possible for slow trains to be shunted in the tunnel for the passage of fast expresses.

The signal cabin is located in a great central hall, far below the surface, over five hundred feet long, fifty feet wide and thirty feet high. It is entered from the main tunnel at both ends, and has subsidiary tunnels extending from the ends to house the siding tracks. The tunnel is ventilated by two inclined shafts sunk originally to facilitate removal of the excavated material.

Some extraordinary difficulties had to be overcome during its construction. Poisonous gases, almost unknown in railway tunnelling, seeped into the workings and in some places caused outbreaks of fire. Another stubborn enemy the engineers had to contend with was water, which soaked in through the whole length of the tunnel. From May, 1925, to March, 1930, the quantity of water pumped out would have been sufficient to fill a lake a mile and three-quarters long, three-quarters of a mile wide and thirty-three feet deep. Extreme precautions had to be taken in consequence to waterproof the crown of the tunnel. Altogether, it cost over five million pounds to build.

In spite of their high-speed trains, it is a curious fact that the capital cities of neither Germany nor Italy had a single large railway station of any note. Much finer stations are to be found in the provincial cities of the two countries, particularly in Milan, where the Italian State Railways built the vast Central Station, containing twenty-two platforms, all but two of which are over eleven hundred feet in length.

Quite a large area of the city had to be cleared to make room for it. The station buildings, horse-shoe in shape, are among the most magnificent of their kind in the world. Italian marble and statuary have been used in profusion.

The desire for greater speed and faster timings was so general before the war that it spread all over Europe, each country doing its utmost to match up with the others, and each overcoming its own peculiar difficulties in various ways. No greater contrast could be found, for example, than

that between the mountainous terrain of Italy and the flat and low-lying nature of Holland and Belgium. In addition, there is in the Netherlands a greater density of population.

Consequently, train runs are short in Holland, and stops are frequent, and a type of motive power was needed that would permit of rapid acceleration and a high average speed between stops. Once again both electric and Diesel-electric haulage were introduced, the busiest routes, such as that between Amsterdam and Rotterdam, being electrified, while for the longer journeys a number of four-car Diesel-electric trains were put into service. These could be run in pairs or triplets, with multiple-unit control, when more seating accommodation was needed.

This speed-up in Holland took place in 1938. Before that year, the country had not a single run timed as high as sixty miles an hour, but exactly a year later the Dutch mileage scheduled at over this average was more than seven thousand, all in fairly short town-to-town runs.


HIGH SPEED IN HOLLAND. Typical Dutch three-car Diesel-electric train in Haarlem. In areas where stations are not far apart, such as obtain in the Netherlands, stops are necessarily frequent, and increases in overall speed call for motive power capable of swift acceleration. Both Diesel-electric and electric traction fulfil this requirement,and before the war, improved average timings out of all recognition.

Improvements in Belgium

Belgium, too, was influenced by the general railway speed-up in Europe. For years the Belgian State Railways had been noted for the quaint appearance of their locomotives, many of which were fitted with enormous square chimneys, but now they introduced some striking “Atlantic” types, specially designed and built for them. In addition, to by-pass congested cities, cut-off routes were laid, and the average timings of Belgian trains mounted rapidly. In 1939, they had reached over seventy miles an hour, chiefly on the line between Brussels and Ostend, and many other high-speed runs were introduced over the busy electrified main line between Brussels and Antwerp.

But it is in France that the greatest strides have been made on steam lines, for it is in this country that the internal streamlining of the steam flow of the locomotive was originated. Most of the research work in this direction was done by an engineer named Andre Chapelon, who will always be remembered in connexion with the principle which bears his name. Before explaining it in detail, however, it is necessary to consider French practice in general, for French locomotive engineers have always been to the fore, and French methods have left their mark in a large way on British engineering practice.

For years the use of compound locomotives, in which the steam, after being used in a high-pressure cylinder, is taken to a larger, low-pressure cylinder for further expansion, has been common in France, and the French engine has always been complex in design. Its appearance almost proclaims the fact, for it seems to carry most of its working parts outside.

The French driver is taught to make the greatest possible use of these complexities. He gets a bonus for fuel-saving, and lest there should be any temptation to economize in fuel at the expense of time-keeping, an additional bonus for regaining lost time. Further, to provide a safeguard against reckless running round curves and elsewhere, all locomotives used on fast trains have self-recording speed indicators.

The indicator contains a moving tape with which the driver cannot tamper, and the tape shows the exact speed at any moment throughout the journey. This method of speed recording has since spread to Britain, but not until the first British high-speed streamlined train was introduced in 1935.

Low-pressure cylinders, as used in the compound principle, are necessarily oi larger diameter than the high-pressure cylinders, and in fitting them the French have had the advantage of a more ample construction gauge than the British. They left more room round their tracks in the early days, although the track gauge used is the same, the standard four feet eight-and-a-half inches. They have, therefore, been able to make full use of the compound principle, which assists economy in fuel consumption. In addition, it is their practice to fit all principal locomotive types with such refinements as feed-water heaters with the same object of economy in view.

Chapelon’s whole idea was to advance economy in fuel still further, and the object he set himself was to reduce the fall in the pressure of the steam as it leaves the boiler and travels through the various cylinders. Steam retains its pressure only as long as it retains its heat; any fall in temperature means a resultant loss in pressure, and heat which has already been supplied and then lost before it can become effective is obvious waste. A further objective was to provide the exhaust steam with as free and rapid an escape through the chimney as possible, thereby reducing back-pressure.


STREAMLINED FRENCH PACIFIC. French engineers are among the finest in the world, and it is in France that some of the greatest strides have been made in steam locomotive design. It was a Frenchman, Andre Chapelon, who developed the principle of internal streamlining, whereby the flow of the steam from the boiler through the valves and cylinders to the chimney is made as smooth as possible.

The changes began with the fitting of thermic siphons, which are narrow, wedge-shaped water-spaces in the inner fire-box, so improving the circulation and assisting in the generation of steam by increasing the heating area. At the same time, the working pressure was raised to two hundred and eighty pounds, the main steam pipe was considerably enlarged and all bends in it were replaced by sweeping curves.

A much larger superheater was also fitted, permitting the steam temperature to be increased to seven hundred and fifty degrees Fahrenheit, and poppet valves were used instead of piston valves, so improving the distribution of steam in the cylinders. Last of all, a double blast pipe and a double chimney were introduced to improve the exit of the steam.

The results were revolutionary. After some preliminary tests, the improvements were incorporated on some rebuilt “Pacific”-type locomotives, and one of these has developed a record horse-power for a locomotive of its weight. The indicator registered only fifty short of four thousand horse-power, and the weight of the locomotive, without tender, was a hundred and five tons. The same engine has also registered the greatest tractive effort of any locomotive in Europe. Its draw-bar, or pulling, horse-power at seventy-five miles an hour was over three thousand, and it maintained as much as two thousand eight hundred horse-power for miles on end. The draw-bar horse-power is the pull of the locomotive on the train, after deducting that used in moving the engine itself.

Chapelon’s achievement on a rebuilt engine was astonishing. He showed by such economical working that steam was by no means an outdated power, and most countries have followed the principle of internal steam streamlining. Double blast pipes and either double or huge circular chimneys are the chief signs of steam streamlining in Great Britain.

It is curious that such a simple and effective idea should have come from a country whose engines are so complex, but it was quite possibly the reaction from complexity that produced it. This is the case with signalling, at all events, for French signalling was at one time even more complex than French locomotives. The number and variety of types of signals used in France were extraordinary.

In stop signals there were no fewer than three different kinds. There was a curious type of chessboard stop signal for main lines, a square stop signal for subsidiary lines, and a circular type of signal known as the outer deferred stop signal. Then there were diamond-shaped distant signals triangular reduced speed signals, block semaphores and direction indicators. A night, in addition to the customary red yellow and green of other countries, the French indulged in violet lights as well. Al this is now being simplified, however, and colour-light electric signalling is taking the place of such a bewildering variety.

There was another simplification just before the Second World War, when all the French railways of former days were amalgamated into one national system. They are divided up into regions known as the Northern, Eastern, South-eastern, South-western and Western Regions.

French engineers have also shown surprising skill in the building of their railway bridges. They have some magnificent examples to their credit, but most of them, unfortunately, are hidden away in remote valleys where the average traveller is unlikely to set eyes on them. One of these, the Garabit Viaduct, was designed by Eiffel, builder of the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris, and carries the railway on a magnificent arch more than four hundred feet above the River Truyere.

The Golden Arrow standing at the Gare du Nord

FAMOUS FRENCH EXPRESS. Well-known to every traveller between Paris and London, the “Golden Arrow” is seen standing at the Gare du Nord in Paris about to pull off on its daily morning run to Calais. The train is composed of luxurious first- and second-class Pullman cars, drawn by a four-cylinder compound “Pacific” locomotive of the Chemin de Fer du Nord, now part of the French National Railways.

Not far away from this, in the Puy-de-Dome region, there is the remarkable Fades Viadact, which is the highest railway bridge in the world. It carries the lines four hundred and thirty-five feet above the level of the River Sioule. There is a bridge in Burma, the famous Gokteik Viaduct, which is actually a great deal higher, but the height of the Gokteik Viaduct depends upon a natural rock arch.

The French Fades Viaduct is the highest built up by man. It has three enormous spans resting on huge, tapering granite piers, but so simple and beautifully balanced is the design that the height of the bridge, at first sight, passes almost unnoticed.

Another spectacular and ingenious bridge is the Viaur Viaduct over the Viaur River. This boasts the biggest span in France, one of seven hundred and twenty-two feet, but is far more notable in being a hinged or articulated structure. The viaduct consists of two cantilevers resting on hinged supports, and joined together by a third hinge which forms the crown of the arch. This giant structure spans a distance of roughly a quarter of a mile, yet the hinges on which it rests are unbelievably small in relation to its size. They were used, of course, to allow for expansions and contraction in such a large quantity of metal.

Electrification in France

There are two main electric lines in France, from Paris and Orleans to points on the Spanish frontier. Direct current of fifteen hundred volts and overhead conductors are used, the supply being obtained from hydro-electric power stations in the Pyrenees and the mountains of central France. This makes two stretches of track of roughly five hundred and six hundred miles respectively, with continuous electric haulage. Elsewhere, save for a few isolated sections of line, electrification is confined to the Paris suburban services and the main line from Paris to Le Mans.

The suburban traffic at some of the Paris terminal stations is enormous. St. Lazare, for example, handles over a quarter of a million passengers every day. Even the Gare de l’Est handles daily between seventy and eighty thousand.

The traffic at these two stations, in fact, has risen to such dimensions that it has been quite impossible to handle it all in ordinary coaches. The French have, therefore, provided double-deck coaches as are found in some other countries. The earlier versions of these were somewhat primitive vehicles, with outside staircases at the ends to reach the upper decks, but the latest bogie-wheeled double-deckers have large end vestibules with either stairs or ramps leading to the upper and lower decks, all inside and so under cover.

Paris is more than a capital with its own heavy traffic, however; it can rightly be called the terminus for the whole of Europe. Every day, before the war, there started from Paris some of the most famous luxury expresses in the world, carrying passengers all over the continent to the fringe of the Orient. These were the trains-de-luxe of the International Sleeping Car Company, made up entirely of sleeping and dining cars.

They were available to both first and second class passengers, and the traveller could book from Paris to cities as far distant as Athens or Istanbul. What is more, he could travel to his destination in the same coach. The running of such through trains all over Europe was a most complicated business, with steam haulage in some places and electric haulage in others, not to mention the crossing of frontiers and customs barriers; but European standard gauge made it possible mechanically, and all the other difficulties were more than anything a question of international agreement and organization.

STREAMLINED COVERING of German steam locomotive partly removed to show boiler

STREAMLINED COVERING of steam locomotive partly removed to show boiler. The engine is of German construction, and is a high-speed 4-6-4 tank locomotive. The complete covering extends downwards well below the coupling rods, inspection plates being provided. Such streamlining adds greatly to the weight of the locomotive, but this is offset by the reduction of air resistance, especially at high speeds.

Some of the cars of the Company are ingeniously arranged. The first-class passenger has a commodious room to himself, with a comfortable lounge seat across the width of the compartment by day, which is made up into a bed by night. If the room is required for second-class accommodation, however, there is a second concealed bed in the wall of the compartment, and this can be let down to make a two-berth cabin, as it were, with the two berths one above the other.

In this way the accommodation of the train can be varied quite easily, according to whether the greatest demand is for first or second-class travel.

Everybody has heard of the famous “Blue Train” to the Riviera. It earned its name not so long ago simply because it was one of the first to be changed from the original varnished teak to a livery of dark blue. Officially, it was known as the Calais-Mediterranean Express. Other famous trains were the “Rome Express” and the “Simplon-Orient Express”, which both began their fascinating journeys from the Gare de Lyon.

They followed the same route as the “Blue Train” as far as Dijon, but here the “Rome Express” branched off to Culoz and Modane, where the Italian State Railways took charge of it, while the “Simplon-Orient Express”, passing through the Mont d’Or tunnel, made its way to Vallorbe with the help of the Swiss Federal Railways.

The “Simplon-Orient Express” had a long journey. It got its name from the Simplon Tunnel, through which it passed into Italy, and then went on by way of Milan, Venice and Trieste into Yugoslavia.

Besides the “Simplon-Orient Express”, there was the “Orient Express”, which crossed Europe by a more northerly route. It ran from Ostend by way of Cologne, Frankfort, Nuremberg and Vienna to Budapest, being joined on the way by a through portion from Paris. Yet another of these luxury travel trains was the “Arlberg-Orient Express”, which ran from Calais and Paris by way of the Arlberg route through Austria.

It will be appreciated that the staffs of such trains must have a good knowledge both of languages and of money exchange rates. As each frontier is crossed, all the menu cards in the restaurant cars have to be changed, and bills made out in accordance with the currency of the country. This means keeping small change in the coinage of every country through which the train passes, for few passengers think to provide themselves with all the variety of coinages they may need on a journey such as this.

AUTO RAIL-CAR. Used extensively on the smaller lines in France

AUTO RAIL-CAR. Used extensively on the smaller lines in France, as well as in other countries, this type of passenger car is usually powered by light-weight petrol or Diesel motors geared direct to the driving wheels and operating through a mechanical clutch. The cars are so light that the Diesel-electric principle would be uneconomical. Rail-cars of this type are used a great deal on the Riviera.

Another and more serious difficulty is that every coach must be fitted to conform to the safety requirements of every country through which it passes. Further, it must have couplings suited to the many different types of locomotive that are used. Quite a lot has been done to standardize such fittings, but it is still necessary to fit these international trains with several different kinds of brake and other equipment.

Coaches fitted for steam-heating in winter have to be run over long stretches of electrified line, where there is no steam for any purpose, and this alone means either that electric heaters must be installed in addition to the steam radiators, or that a special boiler-wagon, producing steam for heating purposes, has to be attached to a train drawn by electricity. Again, owing to the problem of supplying the restaurant cars with gas over such long journeys, most of the cooking has to be done on coke ranges, and many of the sleeping cars are fitted for coke heating in case of emergency. The cars pass over mountains and through deep snow cuttings in winter, and nothing must be left to chance.

Britain seemed to be isolated from this long-distance travel in the same comfortable coach, owing to the English Channel, but even this barrier was eventually overcome. Not by a Channel Tunnel, however, for this project, although a company has been formed to further it, has not been carried out. Nevertheless, in October 1936, it became possible to enter a sleeping car in London and travel in it to Paris and the Near East.

Dover-Dunkerque Ferry

The passage across the Channel was accomplished by means of the Dover-Dunkerque train ferry. Train ferries have been built in various parts of the world, and their principle is that they carry railway tracks on deck of a gauge to accommodate the trains. The boat train from London travels to Dover, where the cars are run on board the ferry, which is berthed in an enclosed dock with water at a constant level, so that the same level may be maintained between the tracks on shore and those on the deck of the ferry.

CROSS-CHANNEL TRAIN FERRYAt Dunkerque the reverse procedure takes place. The cars are transferred by a shunting locomotive from ship to shore, and there attached to an express for Paris. And from Paris, of course, they take their place in any of the luxury trains as desired.

CROSS-CHANNEL TRAIN FERRY. Running the sleeping cars of the through Paris-London night service on board the ferry, an operation calling for accurate alignment of the rails on deck with those on the quay. The ferry is run into a lock where the level of the water is under control, and further allowance for any difference in height or level is made by the hoisting gear of a connecting bridge or gangway.

Apart from the main-line services and the national railways, most of the countries of Europe also have large numbers of small and independent narrow-gauge railways. France and Belgium, in particular, have quite a number that are little more than tramways. All were established long before the advent of the motor-car, and they were very successful in serving outlying districts.

The great increase in road transport, however, sounded the death-knell of many of these lines, as far as normal operation was concerned, and only the more progressive, which adopted the motor-car engine or electrification as their means of traction, have been able to survive.

The petrol engine was installed in rail-cars, and made a handy and economical vehicle for the transport of goods and passengers on little-used lines, having much less weight and consequently greater speed for the power developed. So successful was the idea, in fact, that petrol-driven rail-cars are now used on the main-line routes, chiefly in the south of France.

These petrol cars are different from the Diesel-electric locomotives of other countries, in that there is no electrical working, the motor being coupled direct to the driving wheels through a gear-box and clutch. Some of them, like the Micheline, are rubber-tyred vehicles, and provide the quietest form of rail travel yet devised. They have also been built to run either on the road or on rails, but this practice finds more favour in the northern countries.

Spanish Railways

The railways of Spain and Portugal can hardly be compared with those of the rest of Europe. To begin with, they are laid down to the much wider gauge of five feet six inches, which prevents any through running of coaches from the standard gauge, and more or less cuts the two countries off from the general progress. All traffic for Spain has to be unloaded and reloaded at the frontier stations in the Pyrenees, a slow and costly business. In addition, the interior of Spain is very mountainous, and no speeds of any note are performed even on the main-line railways.

It is noteworthy, however, that Spain, like all the other countries of Europe, has amalgamated the larger private railway companies into one national system, in an attempt to bring them up to date. The change-over took place in 1941.

Past and present rub shoulders in Spain in a curious way. On the main lines, although high speeds are not obtainable, an express train may be hauled by a powerful locomotive of modern wheel arrangement suitable for heavy grades, with rolling stock including saloon coaches of the Pullman type. But a journey over a country branch in a mixed passenger and goods train is a very different experience.

Nevertheless, Spanish railways can show some fine engineering feats, chiefly in the Pyrenees Mountains, where the French and Spanish lines connect. There are some tunnels which had to be bored out of solid rock, one over three miles in length, and another in a spiral curve for the purpose of surmounting a sudden change in level. In addition, there are several viaducts, one, the Gisclard, designed on the lines of a suspension bridge, with a central span of over five hundred feet carrying the rails two hundred and sixty-five feet above the turbulent River Tet.

The electrified line to Nuria in SpainThere are some excellent stations, too, in the larger Spanish cities, chiefly in Madrid and Barcelona. Barcelona also has a cable or suspension railway over the harbour, and Madrid has an underground system of the high-level variety, just below the surface. The Spanish railway system has made great strides recently, including a certain amount of electrification, but a great deal remains to be done to the minor and branch lines to bring them up to the level of the rest of Europe.

ELECTRICITY IN THE PYRENEES. Most Spanish  railways are steam-operated and many are comparatively old-fashioned, but a certain amount of electric haulage is used in the mountainous district of the Pyrenees. This electrified line to Nuria is supplied with current by overhead conductors and worked on the rack-and-pinion principle. The toothed rail in the centre of the track can be clearly identified.

You can read more on “Belgium’s Steel Network”, “The Rome-Naples Direttissima” and “Some German Achievements” on this website.